With the date of the 2023 Pepsi North America Cup less than two months away, Trot Insider will profile some of the race's top contenders as horses ready to compete for one of Canadian harness racing's biggest prizes.
In 2004, when the Pepsi North America Cup was contested for a record $1.62 million, Chris Ryder trainee Metropolitan finished second to longshot Mantacular by a head. It's one trophy that's eluded the accomplished trainer, and it's one trophy he'd like to add to his mantle.
"You always like to win those big races of course," Ryder told Trot Insider. "One thing about the Fan Hanover and the North America Cup is they have real nice trophies."
Ryder has solid shot at taking home both trophies this year. His main North America Cup contender is Handlelikeaporsche, #8 in in TROT Magazine's 2023 Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book at odds of 16-1.
Co-owned by Ryder along with William Ezzo of Boca Raton, Fl., Robert Mondillo of Delaware, Oh. and Barry Spak of Thornton, Penn., Handlelikeaporsche (Lazarus N - The Signature) posted a summary of 5-3-0 from 10 starts at two, taking a mark of 1:50.1 at The Red Mile and accruing $275,825 in purses.
While he hasn't won the Pepsi North America Cup, he's enjoyed success in the race that could be considered the filly companion event that traditionally shares the mid-June spotlight -- the Fan Hanover. Cathedra Dot Com and I Luv The Nitelife have provided Ryder with that hardware in the past, and Party Girl Hill recently took that title for the Ryder trainee who has under the tutelage of Chantal Mitchell during the COVID-19 pandemic. He's looking for another Fan Hanover in 2023 with Twin B Joe Fresh.
Trot Insider caught up with Ryder for an update on his pair of returning stakes winners.
Where did Handlelikeaporsche winter and when did you start back with him?
"I kept him around here at a little turnout farm and brought him back in at the end January."
Have you noticed any changes from last year to this year?
"He always had good flesh and kept good weight. The difference, this year, is that hopefully we can keep him heeled. He got a bit excited in a couple of post parades. And it didn't work out. But he's doing good."
He qualified this past weekend at The Meadowlands. What will his tentative early schedule look like leading up to the Pepsi North America Cup?
"He doesn't have much before the NA Cup," indicating some state-bred races at Freehold and The Meadowlands are options. "It's a long season so I'm not really concerned about that."
What does his tentative schedule look like after the North America Cup?
"He's got everything. You can't go in everything; we'll just see how we go. I think it's going to be a good bunch of three-year-olds this year."
What's his biggest asset / strength?
"He's just a good, healthy horse, keeps well, holds his weight, athletic type, good-gaited and doesn't have any issues we can't work around. Just have watch getting him excited in the post parade."
At what point last year did you think this horse was North America Cup material?
"We were high on him in the Sire Stakes but then he went to Kentucky and won so well, I thought that was a bit of a step up. And then again in the Breeders Crown when he beat [Stockade Seelster]. I don't know what he came his back half in, :53 or something?"
Any three-year-old stablemates in the barn right now that are paid up and also looking promising?
"Admiral Hill. He's a horse a like a little bit. Not the biggest winner but I think he's going to be close most of the year. We'll see."
As someone who hasn't won this race before, how does it feel to have a horse that appears to have a legit shot at the North America Cup?
"It feels good but I really don't think about it a lot. We have to get in, concentrate on the elims, get the horses ready to make the final, hopefully, and go from there. Obviously I'd love to win a North America Cup."
A sophomore that you're preparing for a return to the races that's not NA Cup eligible is a filly: Twin B Joe Fresh. Can you provide an update on her?
"We're going to qualify her around the middle of May. She's a bit behind the others but she doesn't have to race until June, really.
Is the Fan Hanover the first target for her?
A race between Sylvia Hanover and Twin B Joe Fresh is one of the marquee matchups we didn't get to see last year that I think many are looking forward to in 2023.
"We'll start the year off early giving the people what they want to see."
This year's Pepsi North America Cup, scheduled for Saturday, June 17 at Woodbine Mohawk Park, will mark the 40th edition of Canada's most prestigious pacing event.
Previous 2023 TROT Magazine Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book profiles: